Project Runway contestants are famously petulant – a montage of their eye rolls would probably be longer than a regular episode – but last week’s tantrum by contestant Ven Budhu sparked outrage when he brought his plus-size model to tears.
For the “L'Oreal Paris Makeover My Friend Challenge,” contestants had to dress non-models, a challenge that always provokes groans from the designers, who are more accustomed to standard model-size proportions. Despite the fact that unexpected challenges are the entire point of the show, the designers tend to have meltdowns when told to go outside their comfort zones. But Budhu didn’t only complain loudly in the workroom and to the confessional camera, he berated his model, Terri Herlihy, about her shape. (Herlihy is a size 10, hardly an unusual size.) He also told Tim Gunn, "My client doesn't really have a shape. She's definitely not fashion forward. She doesn't have any sense of style whatsoever."
PLUS Model Magazine has stepped up to defend Herlihy. "It's unacceptable for anyone to be treated with such disrespect and lack of human decency,” said PMM Editor-in-Chief Madeline Jones. “What should have been an exciting time for Terri Herlihy turned into a nightmare before the public's eyes as she was humiliated and demeaned by Ven on national television."
Ven’s designs are typically very sleek and focused on detailed manipulation of the fabric, so there’s really no reason he couldn’t have made one of his signature architectural pieces for Herlihy.
After the episode aired, Twitter and Tumblr collectively guffawed at Ven, with lines like “I wonder if we can shame him into leaving Project Runway the same way he shamed that beautiful woman about her weight,” and “Sometimes designers and clients just don't connect, like when a client is size 10 and the designer is a terrible person.”
Herlihy has been responding to messages of support on Twitter graciously, saying, “I did not react because I teach my kids not to be prejudice or to bully.”
Luckily, PMM is giving Herlihy a second chance, making her over and featuring photos and an interview in their October "Love Your Body" issue (October 17 is Love Your Body Day, btw). "We are putting together for her what Mr. Budhu was unable to provide,” Jones said. “A makeover where she will feel beautiful, stylish and embraced," Jones said.